What if farmers have eyes in the sky to monitor farm lands in real-time! In a large area stretching tens of kilometres where single or multiple crops are grown, monitoring their growth through satellite imaging or drones is helping to manage crop cultivation better. Taking visual, Infrared or some such crop yield indicating scanned images (Spectral Imaging) is driving what is called precision agriculture/farming. It is not a technology in labs, it is already being implemented in countries like USA , Canada and many regions. Some experts call this data driven agriculture.
Multi and hyperspectral cameras are fitted to drones enabled with a GPS/GNSS systems and controlled by ground systems again through GPS/GNSS data. These drones bring back the pictures for the farmer and agriculture scientists to find out why some patches of land giving good yield. The water content, the soil nature, pests, Soil PH, and also photosynthesis, level can be analysed through various scans. Invisible spectrum can be used to detect the amount of pesticides and insecticides in the soil or sprayed over the plants. Tasks such as soil variation identification, pests and fungal infestations, identifying healthy and distressed plants, can be achieved faster with drones compared to personal inspection of every area by the farmer. Agriculture is going to become an important market for drones with a double-digit growth reaching billions of dollars.
"Electronic cameras can also record near infrared images that are highly correlated with healthy plant tissue. New image sensors with high spectral resolution are increasing the information collected from satellites. " says Anil kumar Singh, in his paper titled "precision farming". The paper is available at: http://www.iasri.res.in/design/ebook/EBADAT/6-Other%20Useful%20Techniques/14-Precision%20Farming%20Lecture.pdf
The technologies what is used for defence/surveillance can help farmers to increase crop yield. The GPS equipped farming equipment can be remotely controlled by using image data. The semi-autonomous driver assistance systems or robot like self driving farming equipments/machines such as tractors, harvesters, sowing equipment, can be controlled through GPS enabled systems.
Software products are also available to analyse images for various crop yield enabling and disabling factors.
A company called Slantrange supplies both the hardware as well as software which helps farmers to know the crop population, weed population, stress condition and many such agricultural performance parameters. To learn more about this technology visit company's website http://www.slantrange.com/more-about-our-technology/
Another company called Sentera has agriculture specific unmanned aerial vehicle called Phoenix 2 which can be used to collect visible light imaging as well as Vegetation indexing imaging. Drone is also used for spraying pesticides. MG-1 drone from a company called Da-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology can carry 10 kg of liquid to spray 7 to 10 acres of land in an hour. By identifying the weeds through weed mapping, weed eliminating sprays can be activated electronically by feeding the weed map to the system.
The surveying of land can be precisely done faster through GPS and satellite imaging. Well this is about a little complex technologies for Smart farming.
There are simple solutions available in the market for agriculture automation. The Internet of things (IOT) and mobile phones (both smart and traditional) are technology enablers. There are couple of India based companies who supply water pump switching equipment which can be switched on or switched off by sending a missed call to a mobile number.
We're planning to introduce series of articles on applying electronics technology to farming/agriculture. This is a introductory article, in the next article we will try to cover how mobile phone is helping the farmer in agriculture.